Why F1’s engine freeze for 2022 could have a big impact

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It’s another facet of the sport that’s being locked down in order to rein in costs and give the manufacturers necessary time to prepare for the arrival of a new power unit in 2026.

However, there’s still time for the manufacturers to make improvements before the homologation deadlines come in to force, so they’ve been working flat out to extract everything they can until the point of no return.

The internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, exhaust system, engine oil and fuel specifications take precedence in this case. The deadline for any changes or upgrades to these must be presented to the FIA before the season gets underway, with their freeze date set for 1 March.

The MGU-K, Energy Store and Control Electronics have a small reprieve, as the deadline has been set as 1 September.

After this, only in extreme circumstances of one manufacturer being well behind its rivals, will there be any scope for changes. So the power unit formbook will be essentially set in stone this season until the end of 2025.

The ongoing development of the power unit throughout the hybrid era has been intense, with all-new specifications delivered year-on-year by the manufacturers in an effort to improve their performance relative to the opposition.

Mercedes provided that benchmark from the outset, with its class-defining PU106A sporting a split turbocharger layout that enabled it to house the MGU-H between the ‘V’ of the ICE.

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The layout undoubtedly had wide sweeping implications in terms of packaging the rest of the components required of the power unit, but it also called for a much more complex MGU-H design to cater for the forces that would be spread across a larger distance.

Honda followed suit when it arrived just a year later, as it tried to keep the power unit’s footprint as small as possible.

While it made numerous changes to the turbocharger and the MGU-H’s size and layout in the time that’s intervened, the split turbocharger has remained a feature throughout.

Meanwhile, Ferrari and Renault have thus far resisted the temptation to make the switch.

But there are rumours circulating that could change for 2022, given this will be their last chance to do so.

Both would have to be certain that it will offer tangible performance benefits without increasing reliability concerns though.

This is where Ferrari has been quite shrewd, as it used the tail end of its 2021 campaign to road test its new energy recovery system, introducing the new components on Charles Leclerc’s car in Russia, followed by their introduction on Carlos Sainz Jr’s car in Turkey.

Waiting until the end of the campaign to deploy new components, rather than introducing them at the start of the season, essentially gave Ferrari a way of testing them under competitive conditions.

And, had any issues arisen, it would have given it the opportunity to rectify them or alter the course of its development programme, given it could make another change heading into the 2022 season.

Honda, which already made a laundry list of changes to the other components that make up its power unit at the start of the season, also waited it out in regards to the deployment of a new Energy Store.

Max Verstappen was the first of the Honda powered drivers to benefit from the upgrade, as it was installed in his RB16B at the Belgian Grand Prix.

This was the first time Honda had deployed an energy store upgrade during the hybrid era, and it had required the manufacturer to fast-track a project that had taken several years to develop and was originally scheduled for introduction in 2022. 

The closely fought battle between Red Bull Honda and Mercedes proved enough of an incentive to bring forward the project, with improvements in energy efficiency and significant reductions in weight, key to that decision.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B battery detail

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B battery detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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